Adam Yauch, MCA Of The Beastie Boys Is Gone - But Will Never Die

Cancer is an asshole, but Yauch leaves behind an amazing legacy of music, film and activism.

Adam Yauch founded the Beastie Boys way back in the first days of the 80s. It was a hardcore band called B.E.A.S.T.I.E., and the members included Michael Diamond, Kate Schellenbach (later of Luscious Jackson) and John Berry. The band played its first gig at Yauch's 17th birthday party. Yauch was a kid from Brooklyn, playful and smart, and he never stopped changing. The band changed with him, becoming The Beastie Boys and morphing from hardcore punk into party hip hop into musical pioneers into elder statesmen of a generation. Yauch himself went from crazy kid to bearded mystery man to excellent director to activist to indie movie mogul.  

And now he's dead. As a Buddhist, Yauch wouldn't believe this was the end. But even if we don't share his faith, it's obvious that while MCA is dead, he's not going anywhere.

Everybody has their favorite Beastie, and MCA was always mine. His voice, deeper and gravelly, was always the most interesting in the mix. And while all of the Beastie Boys were essentially goofballs, there was a seriousness - almost a danger - to Yauch's lines that appealed to me. Yauch was moved by the plight of Tibet, and he was the one who led the band into the Tibetan freedom movement, which culminated in the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. The 1997 shows were the best concerts I have ever seen - absolutely life changing events. He remained a dedicated activist his whole life; in his final months he was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Yauch's interests didn't just lie in music and activism; he was very into film, and as Nathanial Hörnblowér he directed videos like Intergalactic, So What'cha Want and Body Movin'. He directed docs, including the experimental Beastie Boys doc Awesome; I Fuckin Shot That!. Recently he directed the very fun and funny Fight For Your Right (Revisited), starring Elijah Wood, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen as the young Beastie Boys. 

That interest in film expanded, and Yauch founded Oscilloscope Pictures, an indie distribution label. Oscilloscope is surely one of the best, most cutting indie distros in the world, picking up fascinating, difficult films like We Need to Talk About Kevin and Bellflower and Meek's Cutoff. Oscilloscope movies always come home in top of the line, gorgeous packaging. Yauch's contribution to film will probably never be as big as his deep impact in music, but if you're making indie movies today, he's a hero.

I met Adam Yauch a few years ago. He was funny and gracious, really kind to a nerdy NYC kid who was flustered and nervous. It was an interview for Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!, and at the end Yauch (and the rest of the Beasties) signed my Tibetan Freedom Concert program.

My personal journey with the Beastie Boys didn't really get underway until Paul's Boutique. When License to Ill came out I thought they were a bad joke - which at the time they sort of were, but in the best possible way. Paul's Boutique is one of the greatest records ever recorded, and the first time I listened it utterly restructured my brain. I was a hardcore Beastie fan after that. It wasn't always easy; the License legacy meant that there were always a fair number of lunkheads and morons in the crowd, even at the Tibetan Freedom shows. But I had to be in that crowd; the Beasties on record were just part of it, and if you never saw the band live - especially in their prime - you missed a big part of who they were.

This weekend you should do three things to honor Adam Yauch: you should listen to Paul's Boutique, you should watch an Oscilloscope movie and you should support a Tibetan charity. I've always been a fan of Students For A Free Tibet (I don't know the status of the Milarepa Fund, which Yauch co-founded).

In MCA's religion reincarnation is a given, at least until you acheive enlightenment. I don't know if Adam Yauch quite got THAT far, but he was much farther along the road than most of us. Jarāmaraṇa, the end of life, is sad and can be painful, but it is part of the cycle that leads to rebirth and new life. There are squads who search the globe for the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama; I wonder what form Adam Yauch is taking now.